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If you are of a certain age you may remember as a child shouting “Geronimo!” as you made a daring leap, maybe into a river or swimming pool or, in my case, from the floor in one half built house to another on a bulding site (before the days of Health and Safety!).  Ever wondered why “Geronimo”?  Well read on to find out why and how that shout is loosely connected to All Angels.

At 10-45 pm, 76 years ago to the day, the men of the US 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st US Airborne, boarded aircraft taking them to drop into Normandy, five hours before the D-Day beach assaults.  Although their drop zones were north and east of Carentan the troops were scattered as a result of a combination of low cloud, poor visibility and anti-aircraft fire.  Notwithstanding, they accomplished all of their objectives, not in the way they had been briefed but as a result of their outstanding training and individual initiative and improvisation.

Since January 1944, 2nd Battalion 501st PIR had been billeted at Hamstead Park, no more than 100 yards away from the All Angels vineyards where they had undergone their final training: there is a wonderful photograph of a soldier playing football (English version, not NFU) in the road between the Park and Church Farm.  Hardly surprising either that the red deer herd in the Park got a fair bit smaller during this time….  It was from here that they left for Normandy.

I often cycle a route from Church Farm, via Aldbourne, where Easy Company of Band of Brothers fame were stationed, to RAF Welford from where part of 501st lifted on 5th June and wonder for how many of those young men that was their last journey.  In mid-July the 501st PIR returned to Hamstead Park having suffered almost 900 casualties.  After taking on replacements and further training they left in September 1944 for the Arnhem campaign, never to return.

The countryside around here hasn’t changed much since then and I feel privileged to be able to take in many of the same views as those young men.

So, tonight, let us all raise a glass in toast to the sacrifice of the men stationed at Enborne and elsewhere without which our lives and liberties would be so different.

Oh, yes, why “Geronimo”?  “Geronimo” is the motto of 501st PIR, adopted with the permission of Geronimo’s family, and came about because one airborne soldier of 501st, having watched a film about Geronimo the night before his first parachute jump, decided he was going to shout it as he jumped.  He did so and it kind of caught on…